The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Madby Ken Wilber
In this groundbreaking book, Ken Wilber uses his widely acknowledged "spectrum of consciousness" model to completely rewrite our approach to such important fields as psychology, spirituality, anthropology, cultural studies, art and literary theory, ecology, feminism, and planetary transformation. What would each of those fields look like if we wholeheartedly
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In this groundbreaking book, Ken Wilber uses his widely acknowledged "spectrum of consciousness" model to completely rewrite our approach to such important fields as psychology, spirituality, anthropology, cultural studies, art and literary theory, ecology, feminism, and planetary transformation. What would each of those fields look like if we wholeheartedly accepted the existence of not just body and mind but also soul and spirit?
In a stunning display of integrative embrace, Wilber weaves these various fragments together into a coherent and compelling vision for the modern and postmodern world.
Read an Excerpt
Introduction: An Integral Vision: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful
To understand the whole,
is necessary to understand the parts. To understand the parts,
is necessary to understand the whole. Such is the circle of understanding.
We move from part to whole and back again, and in that dance of comprehension, in that amazing circle of understanding, we come alive to meaning, to value, and to vision: the very circle of understanding guides our way, weaving together the pieces, healing the fractures, mending the torn and tortured fragments,
lighting the way ahead—this extraordinary movement from part to whole and back again, with healing the hallmark of each and every step, and grace the tender reward.
This introductory chapter is a short survey of the whole—the whole of this book,
that is. As such, some of
might not make total sense until all the parts—the succeeding chapters—unfold. But starting in Chapter
the parts are carefully laid out, simply and clearly, and the circle of understanding will, I believe, begin to come alive, and the integral vision clearly shine forth.
if this introductory survey is a "bit much," simply read
lightly and then jump into Chapter
As you continue to read, I believe the integral vision will come upon you slowly but surely, carefully but fiercely, deliberately but radiantly, so that you and
I will find ourselves sharing in the same circle of understanding, abiding in the eye of Spirit, dancing in the freedom of the whole, expressed in all its parts.
Big Bang has made idealists out of almost anybody who thinks. First there was nothing, and then in less than a nanosecond the material universe blew into existence. These early material processes were apparently obeying mathematical laws that themselves, in some sense, existed prior to the Big Bang, since they appear to be operative from the very beginning. Of the two great and general philosophical orientations that have always been available to thoughtful men and women—namely, materialism and idealism—it appears that, whatever else the
Big Bang did, it dealt something of a lethal blow to materialism.
But this idealistic trend in modern physics goes back at least to the twin revolutions of relativity and quantum theory. In fact, of the dozen or so pioneers in these early revolutions—individuals such as Albert Einstein,
Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schroedinger, Louis de Broglie, Max Planck, Wolfgang
Pauli, Sir Arthur Eddington—the vast majority of them were idealists or transcendentalists of one variety or another. And I mean that in a rather strict sense. From de Broglie's assertion that "the mechanism demands a mysticism" to Einstein's Spinozist pantheism, from Schroedinger's Vedanta idealism to Heisenberg's Platonic archetypes: these pioneering physicists were united in the belief that the universe simply does not make sense—and cannot satisfactorily be explained—without the inclusion, in some profound way, of mind or consciousness itself. "The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine," as Sir James Jeans summarized the available evidence. And, using words that few of these pioneering physicists would object to, Sir James pointed out that it looks more and more certain that the only way to explain the universe is to maintain that it exists "in the mind of some eternal spirit."
It's interesting that "mental health" has always been defined as, in some basic sense, being "in touch" with reality. But what if we look to the very hardest of the sciences in order to determine the nature of this bedrock reality—the reality that we are supposed to be in touch with—and we are rudely told that reality actually exists "in the mind of some eternal spirit"? What then? Does mental health mean being directly in touch with the mind of some eternal spirit? And if we don't believe these physicists as to the nature of ultimate reality, then whom are we to believe? If sanity is the goal, then exactly what reality are we supposed to be in touch with?
in the Machine
One of the great problems with this "spiritual" line of reasoning is that, unless one is a mathematical physicist wrestling daily with these issues,
the conclusions sound too tenuous, too speculative, too "far-out" and even spooky. Not to mention the fact that all too many theologians, Eastern as well as Western, have used the stunning loopholes in the scientific account of nature to shove their version of God into the limelight.
Which is why most modern working scientists, physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists go on about their business without much of this strange
"idealistic speculation" clouding their horizons. From cognitive behaviorism to artificial intelligence, from psychological connectionism to biological psychiatry—most researchers have simply remained very close to a materialistic explanation of mind, psyche, and consciousness. That is, the fundamental reality is assumed to be the material or physical or sensorimotor world, and mind is therefore believed to be nothing much more than the sum total of representations or reflections of that empirical world. The brain itself is said to be a biomaterial information processor, explainable in scientific and objective terms, and the information it processes consists of nothing but
("no computation without representation"). A material and objective brain simply processes a material and objective world, and the subjective domain of consciousness is, at best, an epiphenomenon generated in the wake of the physiological fireworks. The mind remains, hauntingly, the ghost in the machine. And whether that machine be computer or biomaterial processor or servomechanism matters not the least. The plaintive call of the dead and ghostly mind echoes down the imposing corridors of today's scientific research.
Typical of these objectivist approaches is Daniel Dennett's widely esteemed
others have less charitably pointed out,
might better have been entitled
In all of these approaches, objective representations are sent scurrying through
and the only item that differs in most of these accounts is the exact nature of the objective network through which information bits hustle in their appointed rounds of generating the illusion of consciousness. All of these accounts—quite apart from certain undeniably important contributions—are nonetheless, in the final analysis, attempts by consciousness to deny the existence of consciousness, which is an extraordinary amount of causal activity for what after all is supposed to be an ineffectual vapor, a ghostly nothingness.
But say what we will, these empirical and objectivist accounts—analog and digital bits scurrying through information networks, or neurotransmitters hustling between dendritic pathways—are not how we
our own interior consciousness. For when you and I introspect, we find a different world, a world not of bytes and bits and digital specs, but a world of images and desires, hungers and pains, thoughts and ideas, wishes and wants,
intentions and hesitations, hopes and fears. And we know these interior data in an immediate and direct fashion: they are simply given to us, they are simply there, they simply show up, and we witness them to the extent we care to. These interior data might indeed be part of extensive chains of mediated events—that is very likely true—but at the moment of introspection, that doesn't matter in the least: my interior states are simply given to awareness, immediately,
whenever I take the time to look.
And thus, even if we attempt to agree with the cognitivists and functionalists and behaviorists, even if we attempt to think of consciousness as nothing but information bits hopping through neuronal networks, nonetheless that
is known to me only in an interior and direct apprehension. I experience that idea in an interior and immediate way; at no point do I actually experience anything that even remotely looks like an information bit dashing through a connectionist pathway. That is simply a concept, and I know that concept, as I
know all concepts, in an interior and conscious apprehension. The objectivist approach to experience and consciousness, in other words, cannot even account for its own experience and consciousness: cannot account for the fact that digital bits are experienced, not as digital bits, but as hopes and fears.
In short, my interior and subjective experience is given to me in terms that simply do not match the objectivistic and empirical terms of functionalism or cognitivism or neuronal connectionism. My
and interior world, known by many names—consciousness, awareness, mind, psyche,
qualia, idea, idealism—definitely appears to be at odds with my
and exterior description of the world, also known by many names—material,
biophysical, brain, nature, empirical, materialism. Inside vs. outside,
interior vs. exterior, mind vs. brain, subjective vs. objective, idealism vs.
materialism, introspection vs. positivism, hermeneutics vs. empiricism.
Small wonder that, almost from the inception of the human knowledge quest, theorists have generally fallen into these two rather different and apparently conflicting approaches to knowledge—interior vs. exterior. From psychology to theology, from philosophy to metaphysics, from anthropology to sociology, the human knowledge quest has almost universally consisted of these two broad paths.
as we will soon see, one of the main tasks of an
approach is to honor and incorporate both of these general paths, and to explain how both can be
significant and important in the understanding of human consciousness and behavior.)
On the one hand are those paths that start with objective, empirical, and often quantifiable observables. These overall approaches—let us call them
"exterior" or "naturalistic" or
"empiric-analytic"—take the physical or empirical world as most fundamental, and all theorizing must then be carefully tied to, or anchored in,
empirical observables. In
this is classical behaviorism, and more recently, cognitive behaviorism (cognitive structures are granted reality only to the extent they manifest in observable behavior). In
this is classical positivism (as with the founder of sociology itself, Auguste
Comte); but also the extremely influential structural-functionalism and systems theory (from Talcott Parsons to Nikias Luhmann to Jeffrey Alexander), where cultural productions are taken to be significant to the extent that they are aspects of an objective social action system. And even in
and metaphysics, this naturalistic approach starts from certain empirical and material givens, and then attempts to
the existence of spirit on the basis of empirical realities (the argument from design, for example).
Arrayed against these naturalistic and empirical approaches are those that start with the immediacy of consciousness itself—let us call them the
"interior" or the "introspection and interpretation"
approaches. These approaches do not deny the importance of empirical or objectivist data, but they point out, as William James did, that the definition of the word "data" is "direct experience," and the only genuinely direct experience each of us has is his or her own immediate and interior experience. The primordial data, in other words, is that of consciousness, of intentionality, of immediate lived awareness, and all else,
from the existence of electrons to the existence of neuronal pathways, are deductions away from immediate lived awareness. These secondary deductions maybe very true and very important, but they are, and will always remain,
secondary and derivative to the primary fact of immediate experience.
where the objectivist approach produces varieties of behaviorism, the subjectivist approach shows up in the various schools of depth psychology, such as psychoanalysis, Jungian, Gestalt, phenomenological-existential, and humanistic—not to mention the vast number of contemplative and meditative psychologies, East and West alike. All of these traditions take, as their starting point, immediately apprehended interior states and direct experiential realities, and they anchor their theories in those immediate data.
These schools are thus interested not so much in
as in the
of psychological symbols and symptoms and signs. Freud's first great book says it all:
Interpretation of Dreams.
Dreams are an interior and symbolic production. But all
What is the
War and Peace?
of your dreams? of your life? And the introspective and interpretive schools of psychology are attempts to help men and women interpret their interiors more accurately and more authentically, and thus to gain an understanding and a meaning for their actions, their symptoms, their distresses, their dreams,
the subjectivist approach shows up in the immensely influential schools of hermeneutics and interpretive sociology (hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation). And once again, in contrast to the objectivist approaches,
which are interested in
empirical behavior, the interpretive approaches in sociology are interested in
symbolic productions. Not "How does it
"What does it
Take the Hopi Rain Dance, for example. A typical objective functionalist approach attempts to explain the existence of the Dance by seeing it as a necessary aspect of the integration of the social action system. The Dance, in other words, is performing a behavioral function in the social system as a whole, and this function—which is generally unknown to the natives—is said to be the preservation of the autopoietic self-maintenance of the social action system
The hermeneutic approach to sociology, on the other hand, seeks instead to take the view of the cultural native and to understand the Dance
as it were, in a sympathetic stance of mutual understanding. And what the interpretive sociologist (as "participant observer") finds is that the Dance is a way to both honor Nature and sympathetically influence Nature.
The interpretive sociologist thus concludes that, phenomenologically, the Dance is a pattern of connecting with a realm felt to be sacred. (Recent examples of hermeneutic sociology and anthropology include such influential theorists as
Charles Taylor, Clifford Geertz, Mary Douglas; they often trace part of their lineage to Heidegger's hermeneutic ontology and Hans-Georg Gadamer's hermeneutic philosophy, and further back to such pioneers as Wilhelm Dilthey and Friedrich Schleiermacher.)
the exterior and interior approaches likewise tend to diverge sharply. The objectivist approach starts with certain empirical and material facts, and attempts to deduce the existence of transcendental realities from those facts.
Saint Thomas Aquinas takes this approach when he gives most of his various arguments for the existence of God. He starts from certain natural facts and then attempts to show that these facts demand an Author, as it were. And right down to today, many physicists and mathematicians use the "argument from design" to conclude that there must be some sort of Designer. This approach includes the recent (and quite popular) Anthropic Principle, which maintains that, because the existence of humans is incalculably improbable, and yet they exist, then the universe simply must have been following a hidden design from the start.
The subjective and introspective approach, on the other hand, does not attempt to prove the existence of Spirit by deduction from empirical or natural events,
but rather turns the light of consciousness directly onto the interior domain itself—the only domain of direct data—and looks for Spirit in the disclosures of that data. Meditation and contemplation become the paradigm, the exemplar,
the actual practice upon which all theorizing must be based. The God within,
not the God without, becomes the beacon call. (In the West, this is the path laid out preeminently by Plotinus and Saint Augustine, which is why the great and enduring theological tension in the West has been between Augustine and
itself this is, of course, the colossal divide between the modern Anglo-Saxon and
Continental approaches, a difference which both camps happily announce (while just as happily denouncing each other). The typical Anglo-Saxon (British and
American) approach is empiric-analytic, begun principally by John Locke and
David Hume, but made most famous in that Cambridge triumvirate of G. E. Moore,
Bertrand Russell, and (early) Ludwig Wittgenstein. "We make pictures of
(empirical) facts" announces Wittgenstein's
and the aim of all genuine philosophy is the analysis and clarification of these empirical pictures of the empirical world. No empirical pictures, no genuine philosophy.
Which always struck the great Continental philosophers as impossibly naive, shallow,
and even primitive. Beginning most notably with Immanuel Kant—and running, in various ways and different guises, through Schelling, Hegel, Nietzsche,
Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault—a dramatically different theme was announced: the so-called "empirical" world is in many important ways not just a
In other words, the allegedly simple "empirical" and
"objective" world is not simply lying around "out there"
waiting for all and sundry to see. Rather, the "objective" world is actually set in subjective and intersubjective contexts and backgrounds that in many ways govern what is seen, and what
be seen, in that "empirical" world. Thus, genuine philosophy, they would all maintain in their various ways, is not merely a matter of making pictures of the objective world, but rather of investigating the structures in the subject that allow the making of the pictures in the first place. Because, put bluntly, the mapmaker's fingerprints are all over the maps he makes. And thus
secret to the universe is not just in the objective maps but in the subjective mapmaker.
The fact that both of these approaches—the exterior and the interior, the objectivist and the subjectivist—have aggressively and persistently existed in virtually all fields of human knowledge ought to tell us something—ought to tell us, that is, that both of these approaches are profoundly significant.
They both have something of incalculable importance to tell us. And the integral vision is, beginning to end, dedicated to honoring and incorporating both of these profound approaches in the human knowledge quest.
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Meet the Author
Ken Wilber is the author of over twenty books. He is the founder of Integral Institute, a think-tank for studying integral theory and practice, with outreach through local and online communities such as Integral Education Network, Integral Training, and Integral Spiritual Center.
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This book contains many very interesting observations about various theories and political movements and how the people involved in them see themselves as in opposition to each other when in fact they are complementary in many ways. The author tries to explain how this fragmentation is caused by a certain type of consciousness that is also at the root of many of our modern environmental and social problems. I think this is a timely book that allows us to expand our consciousness and evolve out of the contemporary rut of the modern age. While the author tries to examine this from a relatively objective and critical view from above, it is also important to be mindful of the fact that the root of this type of thinking is also caused by the type of consciousness so problematic of our times. There is another highly regarded book called 'The Ever-Transcending Spirit' by Toru Sato that addresses this in an extremely inspiring and accesible way. These are the types of books that really remind me of the joy of learning.